May 5, 2020

Exhausted

Written by Jennifer Garvey BergerJennifer Garvey Berger

I remember Before Now. I used to get on planes and hop time zones and teach leadership programs and give speeches that made me vibrate with anxiety beforehand. I used to have a grueling schedule, and have dreams about packing, and often wake up confused about what country I was in. And now I sleep in the same bed each night. I have homecooked, healthy meals every day. I commute downstairs to my home office. I go for walks with Aidan and Aria. And by 8.45 at night, I’m exhausted.

Some of it is what I think of as the Covid Tax—the 10 or 20 or 30% of energy that gets sapped away just by living in this extraordinarily unpredictable and anxiety-creating world. Some of it is the Zoom effect—the way our brains are searching for in-person information and, failing to get it, are wearing themselves out like a cell phone too far from the tower. But some of it is because the nature of my work cycle has shifted so dramatically so fast, and I have lost touch with what pieces are most restorative for me. For me, the battery is on and draining, and I haven’t found the charger.

I have been astonishingly lucky to have had a professional life that is as energising and engaging as mine has been. I swim in a sea of meaning and purpose and connection, and I find that I often have access to my biggest self—my work draws her out and I feel myself at the growing edge of my capacities, my creativity, my compassion. In that bigger self, holding space with treasured colleagues, I have been able to make a real difference in other people’s lives.

In these last eight weeks, the pathway to that difference has been washed out, replaced by a mass of sand and mud and fallen trees. I spend my days on Zoom or Skype or MS Teams, talking to clients and potential clients, having webinars, planning with colleagues, and all the while I’m scrambling to find my way through the slip. It’s hard to know if I’m making a difference; it’s hard to see the lights come on when someone has had an important insight; it’s hard to find those spaces of laughter and ease with a colleague in our 60 or 90 minutes on Zoom.

I did not realise how much of a positive feedback loop I was in Before Now. These connections were fostered by my being in my bigger self and they also created the conditions for me to be in my bigger self. The whole system worked.

And now the feedbacks are broken. I find myself too often in a smaller version of me, mindtrapped in my own simple stories, flailing around for control, and clinging on to an old version of the world, of my identity in the world. I have been searching these last couple of weeks for a way to recreate some of these feedback loops again and find myself. But this search too is leaving me exhausted, and I’ve started to believe it’s moving in the wrong direction. I am not going to find this bigger version of me in the places I used to find her, I think. Many of those places are closed for a while, some perhaps forever.

Instead, I’m searching for pearls of restorative moments the way I used to search for shells on the beach. I want to string them together and drape them around me to create the first pieces of the new necklace of Now.

The first pearl on the necklace of Now is shaped by my friend Amy, who reminds me that there is no way to be doing it wrong right now. It is right to be irritable sometimes. It is right to be exhausted. We are tossed in a massive storm—we are likely to spend some of our time wet and seasick. The second pearl on the necklace of Now comes from a letter from a coachee who tells me how much he has changed as we have walked this path together, how much he treasures this journey. The letter reminds me I am still me, that my life’s work is still there for me even though the context is different. Some things don’t change, aren’t changing, won’t change. In the storm everything is tumbled, but there is sea, there is sand, there is sky. The third pearl is the small prickle of excitement in my belly as I talk to a new client. There are new possibilities for the future. Yes things are broken, will be hard, will die. But this is a birthing of the new as it is a dying of the old. There are things to mourn, but there will be unexpectedly glorious things to celebrate in their time. It is too soon for me to see them, but the cycles of life give me faith that when the sun shines out again, there will be beauty in the new world too.

In truth, this doesn’t shift my exhaustion. I still brush my teeth most nights by 9. But I am less often closed in on myself. Even in the darkest places, the first pearls on the necklace gleam.

 

5 thoughts on “Exhausted”

  1. Avatar Vlad Stefan Lichtenthal says:

    Dear Jennifer,

    Here is a set of safe-to-fail experiments you could run for the coming week. They are written from a personal perspective using a technique called ‘active questioning’. This is similar to a checklist, but feel free to add in whatever you find works for you. After all, it’s about experiments with n=1 (yourself).

    1. Did I do my best to get 8 hours of sleep today?
    2. Did I eat healthy and nutrient-rich food today?
    3. Did I exercise and take a walk today?
    4. Did I spend time with my beloved ones today?
    5. Did I learn something new, useful and interesting today?
    6. Did I help someone else today?
    7. Did I do my best to make progress on (insert meaningful goal here) today?
    8. Did I have fun today?
    9. Did I celebrate my digital sunset (i.e., turning off all electronics one hour before bedtime)?
    10. Did I do my best to e.g. meditate, journal, etc. today?

    Try this (or a version of this) for one week and tell me how it worked out for you.
    Best,
    Vlad

    1. Jennifer Garvey Berger Jennifer Garvey Berger says:

      Thanks so much, Vlad. This is an inspiration to think about what my core questions would be!

  2. Avatar FREITAG says:

    Hi Jennifer,
    we have never met in person but I like to read your posts and this time, I just thought- EXACTLY!!!

    Thank you very much for describing my feelings!

    Last year, I have spent 120 nights and days in hotels and workshops and been permanently traveling, packing and unpacking… mostly in Europe ( I live in Munich, Germany).
    This was exausting but the daily feedback from my participants was so extremely rewarding that I was bearing all these efforts easily.

    And now: Sitting. At home. In front of two screens. Sometimes standing. Working with participants who I have never met in person. Bandwith problems do not allow to turn on cameras permanently. Home situations do not allow to turn on microphones permanently.
    Trying to identify unknown participants by their voice. Glimpsing at participant-lists, trying to make sense of who I am talking to.

    Soft skills for blackboxes…

    You are at the other side of the planet, but what you wrote really resonated with me.
    Thank you very much!

    FREITAG

  3. Avatar Niall Crawford says:

    Hello Jenifer, today for the first time ever I heard you speak on a radio programme in the UK today. It was about change and nothing is going to go back just forward. You also talked about grieving for lost possibilities. Please could you point me in the direction around more of your work around this as having been made redundant I keep fixating on what I have lost rather than how to build again and live happily going forward

    1. Jennifer Garvey Berger Jennifer Garvey Berger says:

      Hello Niall,
      I’m so sorry that you have been made redundant. I’m sure there is much to grieve there and I hope you are being gentle with yourself in the midst of these difficulties and giving yourself time to recover. I think there are many resources in the world that might be helpful handholds in this moment. I love William Bridges’ Transitions work and it might be a helpful and healing read for you. (We have written about the work some as well so a search on this blog might get you more about these things.) My work is easy to find, I think–you’ll see it woven through this website, on YouTube, and of course the books are widely available on line. In my moments of loss, I often turn to poetry and novels. I wish you healing and the beautiful sense of possibilities that this opening may bring.
      warmly
      jennifer

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